This unusual NHL season is already one third of the way over, with roughly two more months for teams to grind through the lockout-condensed schedule. With so many games packed into the winter, unpredictable developments were, well, predictable. Here's a rundown of some of the biggest surprises so far:
THE HAWKS ARE HOT
The Chicago Blackhawks, still fueled by the core of their 2010 championship club, were certainly in the conversation this year about the league's elite. But nobody could've expected their opportunity to set the NHL record for most games in a row with at least one point. They'll play Friday to try to stretch the streak to 17. For any team, regardless of talent, to start so strong after a six-day training camp is a remarkable feat.
Goalies Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have had a lot to do with this. The Hawks have a 1.88 goals against average, down from 2.75 last season, which put them in the NHL's bottom third.
WILL THERE BE A CHANGE IN CHAMPS?
The Los Angeles Kings looked like a legitimate candidate to become the first team in 15 years to take consecutive titles with every significant player returning from last season's Stanley Cup winners, but they've required a recent 10-day surge of four victories in their last five games to even climb back in contention.
The Kings have begun to pick up the gritty wins that defined their championship run last spring, but the 7-6-2 record they took into the weekend was below the playoffs cut. Over their first 15 games, Jeff Carter was the only player with more than four goals, and only two teams had scored less than the Kings entering Thursday. Goalie Jonathan Quick, the backbone of last year's title team who led the league with 10 shutouts, doesn't have one yet. His goals against average, which was a robust 1.95 last season, has risen to 2.58.
FREE AGENTS AREN'T FREE
The Minnesota Wild caused the splash of last summer when they signed the prizes of the market, left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, to $98 million, 13-year contracts. But despite the boost to their attack by the relentless Parise, who had seven goals in their first 15 games, the Wild are the NHL's lowest-scoring team. Suter had eight assists but no goals and a minus-5 rating entering Thursday.
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